A compact SUV served as a kennel for a pack of 13 dogs discovered in an Islamorada parking lot before dawn Tuesday.
The owner, Frank La Peruta, 54, was arrested on animal-cruelty warrants issued earlier this month in Okeechobee County.
“And they didn’t even know about these animals,” Marsha Garrettson, manager of the Key Largo Animal Shelter, said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had this many dogs come in one time.”
The arrival tripled the number of dogs at the shelter, operated by the nonprofit Humane Animal Care Coalition under a Monroe County contract.
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Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies working a pre-dawn traffic stop near mile marker 81.5 heard the sound of barking dogs coming from a Chevrolet Equinox parked at a nearby business.
When Deputy Bryan Branco looked through the partially opened windows, he found a dozen dogs staring back. “Thirteen, actually,” Garrettson said.
It took Animal Control Officer Kevin Hooper “quite a while to get them all out,” she related. “The vehicle was full of dogs and food and feces.”
Most of the rescued dogs were in the small- to medium-size range, with two larger mixed breeds.
“La Peruta advised he could not rely on anyone to properly care for the dogs in Okeechobee, as he worked in Islamorada, and decided to bring them with him,” Branco wrote in his report.
Okeechobee County authorities on Oct. 8 filed 14 counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty against La Peruta after an investigation of a one-acre property where officers found six “mistreated or neglected” horses along with 10 cats locked in a shed and two neglected dogs, according to an Okeechobee court filing.
La Peruta, who described himself as a security guard, was taken back to Okeechobee, where he faces a mid-November hearing.
The dogs rescued from La Peruta’s vehicle were not starving but were “dirty with internal and external parasites,” Garrettson said. “Some had matted hair.”
All 13 dogs will be offered for adoption from the Key Largo Animal Shelter after veterinary treatment and neutering.
“We were fortunate we had the room but we still have to move some dogs,” Garrettson said.
Before Hurricane Irma, most of the Key Largo shelter’s animals had been evacuated to a Palm Beach County shelter where nearly all were quickly adopted.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206
This article was originally published on flkeysnews.com.